Developing the Theme of Family through the Torah Portions. Number Thirty-One.

Dr Clifford Denton.

Emor: Leviticus 21:1-24:23.

18th May 2024/10 Iyyar.

And you shall take for yourselves on the first day the fruit of beautiful trees, branches of palm trees, the boughs of leafy trees, and willows of the brook; and you shall rejoice before the Lord your God for seven days. (Leviticus 23:40)

Picture by Helen McNeill            

The Feasts of the Lord are deep in meaning but not complicated. There are references to detail in the other books of Torah while Leviticus 23 sets out the pattern for each year.

The weekly Sabbath is of prime importance as a day of rest for God’s family. There is also a more general principle of rest, as we shall read in next week’s portion.

Seven is a key number in God’s created order. After the Sabbath, which is also counted as a Feast and a Holy Convocation, seven Feasts are listed comprising the yearly cycle: Passover, Unleavened Bread, Firstfruits, Weeks, Trumpets, the Day of Atonement and Tabernacles. The year begins with Passover (Pesach), which is also the beginning of the week of Unleavened Bread, the Feast of Firstfruits follows, then a period of 50 days leading up to the Feast of Weeks (Shavuot). A longer interval then passes to the seventh month which begins with Trumpets and the blast of the shofar leading to the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur) and the Feast of Tabernacles (Sukkot).

The cycle of Feasts takes us through the agricultural year which has an early and late harvest in the Middle East. Throughout the year there is to be a consciousness of God’s provision and timely convocations when the entire nation, family by family, prepares to share in the Feast and come before God.

It is a beautiful cycle of life, spoilt only by mankind’s tendency to disobey through sin. The yearly cycle, therefore, by God’s grace, contains the principle of substitutionary sacrifice especially at Passover, but also at other times. Included is the annual awesome Day of Atonement when all matters must be put right between each other and with God.

For thousands of years, to this day, the impact of God’s teaching through Moses was to cause the Children of Israel to follow this yearly cycle. When the Gospel went out from Jerusalem into the Gentile world, the invitation was for all people to come by faith and belong to the new Jewish sect called the people of The Way, disciples of Yeshua.

One might ask whether, as time went on, a mistake was imparted to the Christian Church in the Gentile world to take the elements of the Feasts and reinterpret them into a different yearly calendar. The Church’s yearly calendar relocated Passover and renamed it Easter, renamed Shavuot as Pentecost, added a Harvest Festival as Tabernacles and Christmas, among many other special days in various Christian calendars. On the one hand, it was realised that every one of the Feasts pointed to fulfilment in Yeshua. On the other hand, Church traditions have gradually brought modifications into the emphasis of the Feasts, including Easter eggs and bunnies, Father Christmas and Christmas presents. With all the good that some of this has brought to families who have enjoyed times of celebration together, we must ask whether the emphasis has so much changed from the original yearly cycle as to make Christianity a different religion from what might have been.

In our day, we might find ourselves turning meaningfully to Paul’s reference in Ephesians 2:15 to The One New Man of Jews and Gentiles in their common faith in Yeshua HaMashiach, or to the Olive Tree of Romans 11, and find ourselves rethinking all of this. It will surely prompt the question as to whether it is time to return to our original roots, not only in the Hebraic way of thinking and living by faith but also on this matter of, in some way, reorientating to the yearly cycle of Feasts in Christian fellowships to conform to Leviticus 23. This is not straightforward for several reasons. One is that there is no longer a Temple in Jerusalem. Another is that the agricultural cycle and the types of trees and fruit are different in different countries. A third is that we must see beyond Jewish tradition – however beneficial – to the heart of God’s intent. A fourth is that we cannot easily stand alone. The Feasts are founded on family life but extend to the entire believing community.

We can make a start by turning to prayer in our own family, as we read the Scriptures together – prayer for understanding in our family and also in the wider community of believers. We may quickly realise that we are, in fact, not alone. There is already a growing movement of those who are discontent with the Christian yearly cycle, especially when it is found to be man-centred and not God-centred. Also, there are signs all-around of the last days before Yeshua’s return, coinciding with which is a maturing of the Messianic Communities among the people of Israel.

Within the heart intent of the Feasts, two key things can be gleaned from our portion this week and they are far from ritual obedience alone. One is that there is immense joy in thanksgiving intended by God in our celebrations typified, for example, in the waving of beautiful branches before the Lord at Sukkot. The second is that the Feasts are designed so that God Himself will be among us sharing in our times of fellowship.

At times of revival, such as in Wales in 1904, this recognition of God’s awesome presence was symbolised by families setting an extra place at the meal-table for the Lord, inviting Him to be among them.

It is true that Passover was to be fulfilled by the Sacrifice of Yeshua for our sins, Shavuot was fulfilled by the giving of the Holy Spirit, and the Feasts of the seventh month (Tishrei) are to be fulfilled in Yeshua’s return. But this should not separate the celebration of the Feasts from their original place in the yearly cycle, as we wait in anticipation for the return of Yeshua. Let’s think about it together, this week.